One of the best newspaper images of recent years was the shot of elderly Irish emigrants looking out on the sea after coming back from Britain for a visit to the West. It was heartbreaking, and said more about the Irish psyche and Irish history than many books. If you've seen that photo you won't forget it, and it will be at the forefront of your mind as you watch this excellent Irish-language film.
'Kings' tells the story of a group of men who left Connemara in the 1970s to find work in London. 30 years later they have reunited to have a wake for one of their number, the youngest, Jackie (Ó Tárpaigh). The decades have been kinder to some than to others, but all have their demons - and the death of Jackie has only made them even more vociferous.
Joe Mullan (Meaney) has become a successful builder but he's hooked on cocaine. Jap Kavanagh and Git O'Donnell (O'Kelly and Conroy) have worked hard but have nothing to show for it, living in a rundown flat and drinking themselves into a stupor. Shay O'Meallaigh (Crowley) has a family and a fruit stall and is resigned to never going back to Ireland. And Máirtín Rodgers' (Barnes) wife is about to walk if he doesn't try to stop drinking. Five men with a lot in common and a lot to hide - and one very long night ahead of them.
It's a rare film that proves to be as riveting as it is disturbing but 'Kings' superbly captures the experiences of a generation and has very important things to say as Ireland becomes home to many other nationalities. Adapted by director Collins from the Jimmy Murphy play 'Kings of the Kilburn High Road', the film doesn't balk from wandering around in the dark corners of the Irish male psyche: the complete devotion to drink, the emotional devastation that results and the willingness to write one's self off. More than once, you'll see people you know in it.
The theory that you can't go home again runs throughout the story and while some of the characters make noises about a return, they all know deep down that the psychological distance from what they were to what they are is so great that they never will. As an ensemble piece it works superbly because each actor gets to articulate some aspect of the emigrant experience.
While the cast of 'Kings' have a lifetime of screen and stage work behind them, what they've achieved together here ranks as a career high point. They bring these characters so vividly to life that there isn't one scene or exchange of dialogue that doesn't ring true. Drink flows, denial is reinforced and rage boils over, while the tenderness the characters have for each other proves a lot harder to release. You'll be drained and wiser by the end of it.
Chosen as Ireland's entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, 'Kings' deserves to have a much bigger audience than just a small island. And the announcement of that shortlist in January just can't come quick enough.